Russian forces allowed a first convoy of cars to escape Ukraine’s besieged port of Mariupol on Monday after 10 days of failed attempts to relieve civilians dying under relentless bombardment.
The southeastern port, totally surrounded by Russian troops since the first week of the invasion, has suffered the worst humanitarian impact of the war, with hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in basements without food, water or shelter.
Local Ukrainian authorities say as many as 2,500 civilians have died so far in the city, a toll that cannot be independently confirmed. Russia denies targetting civilians.
“At one o’clock (1100 GMT) the Russians opened a checkpoint and those who have cars and fuel began to leave Mariupol in the direction of Zaporizhzhia,” Andrei Rempel, a representative of the Mariupol city council who is now in Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-held city further north, told Reuters.
“In the first two hours, 160 cars left. There are probably already many more now. The city continues to be bombed but this road is not being shelled. We don’t know when the first cars can get to Zaporizhzhia as there are still many Russian checkpoints that need to be passed.”
The city council said the convoy had already passed Berdyansk, a Russian-held city about 85 km from Mariupol.
“There is also confirmation that a ceasefire is currently holding along the humanitarian corridor that has been established,” it said.
Obtaining safe passage for aid to reach Mariupol and civilians to get out has been Kyiv’s main demand at several rounds of talks. All previous attempts at a local ceasefire in the area have failed.